Norwegian children are spending more time in day care centers than their parents are spending at work, according to new figures from state statistics bureau SSB. Their days have grown longer in recent years, but officials don’t seem worried.
Norwegian parents, who pay several thousand kroner a month for their share of state-supported day care costs, are placing their children an average of 42.8 hours a week in the day care centers, called barnehager. According to government figures, that’s six hours longer than in 2003 and almost three hours more than the official maximum work week in Norway.
For many families, long days in day care centers are a necessity in order to make ends meet, writes news website nrk.no, because both parents need to generate household income. In most cases, it’s simply expected in Norwegian society that both parents work and have careers.
SSB reported that 88.5 per cent of children below the age of six spend their days in day care centers. That’s up from 69.1 per cent in 2003.
Little research has been done in Norway on the effects that long hours in kindergarten may have on children. However, much work has been carried out on the subject in the US.
May Britt Drugli at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology ( NTNU), in Trondheim has evaluated an American study that began with children when they were a just a few months old and followed their development to the age of 15. The most recent article on the study, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), suggests that children who have spent long days in day care from an early age show a higher rate of difficult behaviour at age 15.
“They are a bit more restless, more obstinate, they take more risks without thinking about consequences, are a bit more impulsive and slightly harder to manage in the classroom than children who have spent less time in day care,” Drugli told nrk.no.
Start later in Norway
Norway’s generous parental leave provisions allow mothers or fathers to spend each child’s first year at home, at little or no loss of salary, so infants are rarely put into day care. Most children are at least a year old before they’re sent to the barnehage (roughly pronounced “bar-neh-ha-guh”). Drugli also said there is no indication that long hours in the barnehage cause serious behavioural problems.
She also noted that children in “good” day care centers often develop better language skills, are better prepared for school and do better once they actually attend school.
Arne Holte at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet), also claimed that time spent in the barnehage can’t be compared to time at work.
“Many children don’t want to go home at the end of the day,” he told nrk.no. He also adds that there may be major differences between American and Norwegian kindergartens.